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EDU 6613 – Standards Based Assessment – Meta Reflection – Standard 11

EDU 6613 – Standards Based Assessment – Meta Reflection – Standard 11

Standard 11: Teacher leaders utilize formative and summative assessment in a standards based environment.

“…how deeply ingrained into our practice is the idea that assessment should allow us to sort, rank, and grade students, rather than inform the teacher what needs to be done next” (Wiliam, 2011, p.77)

Over the last 11 years as a teacher, my understanding of assessment and its value has evolved. To be completely truthful, when I started teaching, I gave quizzes and tests because it was expected. Quizzes and tests were supposed to be used to generate a large portion of a student’s grade, and it was important that I give them regularly. In all fairness, I have always written my own tests, first, before planning the lessons that will be taught to prepare for the test, but at the beginning I did not put much effort into using the assessment for any instructional decision-making. After the first few years of teaching, my district started working on collaborative teams and PLCs, and gave the math department all a common prep period to work on common assessments and data analysis, and that was when I started changing my opinion on what a test is for. It is also when I started to really be made aware of what an assessment should not be used for.

I have found that many teachers view an assessment as a “gotcha”, or a chance to present students with a very challenging problem set, loosely based on what was taught during the unit that “only the smart kids” will be able to be successful on. Because, after all, if students don’t do their homework then they shouldn’t be able to be successful on an assessment, right? The longer I have taught, and the more I have learned about assessment, the more this attitude frustrates me. The question in my mind as I entered this course then became, “How do I use assessment to truly drive my instruction, and as a tool for students rather than a punishment?” Thankfully, I was able to bring a lot of learning away from this course to help me answer my question.

The course began with a study into the question, “Why formative assessment?” This question becomes so much more valid when you have had the experiences I have had where I have worked with colleagues who would never consider assessment to be a learning tool for the students and the teacher. One of the best quotes I read in our study of this came from Wiliams (2011), and says, “The teacher’s job is not to transmit knowledge, nor facilitate learning. It is to engineer effective learning environments for the students” (p. 50). This quote really gets down to the heart of this question. If you do not formatively assess, if you do not know where all your students are on the range of understanding, then you cannot engineer a learning environment for ALL students. You might be able to get most of the students, but you certainly cannot address all learners, and that is not good teaching.

Then the course moved into consideration of shared learning intentions, or learning targets. This is an area I have had a lot of experience with as a teacher and felt I had a good grasp on before the course. A learning target, or learning objective, to me has never just been something to put on the board, but is instead something to teach students about intentionally, just as any other aspect of a lesson. A previous principal of mine that I respect a great day said that if he were to walk into any classroom and ask a student what they were learning and why, the student should be able to answer. He did not care if the target was posted or written (although I do require that the learning targets be written in my students’ notes each day), he simply cared if students understood what was being taught that day, and why it was important to learn it. Reflecting on my own learning experiences, there were plenty of times I sat through a class period, or entire day, or week of school and had no idea what I was supposed to gather from that learning experience. For this reason, I have always focused on intentional shared learning targets. A new area for me to reflect and grow is sharing success criteria with my students as well. I need to make sure I am intentional and explicit in making sure my students understand not just what we are learning and why, but what success looks like once they have mastered that particular concept.

Next the course moved into an examination of how to determine what students know and have learned. We focused on many different types of questioning, and a variety of instructional strategies and tools that can be beneficial when trying to determine what students know at a given point during instruction. One easy change for me to implement this year is to change my questioning to “why” questions. For instance, instead of asking students, “Is this equation a quadratic?” I can change my question to, “Why is this equation a quadratic?” This will allow the learners to describe their understanding of a topic better and allow me to understand the reasoning behind the response more completely. During this portion of the course, we created the formative assessment portion of our Learning Progression, which really allowed me to consider how to intentionally ask questions that will give me the most amount of insight into students’ understanding instead of just their ability to memorize what the right answer should be.

Feedback was the next topic of student, and what I chose to use as a topic for my Assessment Into Action research paper. Feedback is something that I struggle with in a secondary setting. I struggle with what all teachers say they struggle with in this area: 150+ students each day, 54 minutes with each group of students, huge amount of papers to look at and grade, etc. It becomes an issue of time. With the importance of feedback really made clear to me through this course, and a few others in the program previously, I have made it a goal of mine to continue to focus on this as an area of improvement. Some ideas I am going to try next year include: remembering that verbal feedback is as valuable as written feedback, creating and using more rubrics to allow for students to gather feedback, focusing on a certain group of students each day to provide feedback to, focusing on a particular topic or concept each time to provide feedback regarding, providing recorded audio feedback, and using more 1:1 conferencing where the student records the feedback during the conference.

Lastly, we looked at peer and self-assessment. This is an area where I also acknowledge that I have room to grow as an educator. The course gave me many suggestions for ways to implement this type of assessment and reflection that do not feel like they will take away from important instructional time without engaging students. I am looking forward to trying the “traffic lights” approach for my students to allow students to consider who needs additional instructional time, and for my students to work together to create the best possible answer to a question by discussing individual responses with the table group to assess which peer has the best answer for each portion of the question. I am also looking for opportunities to incorporate ways to allow my students to help me create rubrics for assignments or projects and then use them to evaluate their understanding.

Finally, I am going to try to use my summative assessments as formative learning tools for my students. I plan on giving my students a copy of the summative assessment at the beginning of each unit and a rubric that explains the scoring guide. I am going to teach my students how to use this to assess their own learning throughout the unit, and then when I give the summative assessment at the end of the unit, it will be very similar, just with different numbers, and perhaps a slightly different order. There is no reason for an assessment to be a punishment. I look forward to seeing how my students learn and grow next year with these changes in effect, and hopefully will be able to use their success to help my colleagues understand the validity of formative assessment as something to learn from rather than a punishment for not studying hard enough.

Resources:

Dwek, C. S. (2007). The Perils and Promises of Praise. Educational Leadership (65), 2, 34-

39.

Hicks, T. (2014, October 14). Make It Count: Providing Feedback as Formative Assessment.

Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/providing-feedback-as-formative-assessment-troy-hicks

National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics & Association of Mathematics Teacher

Educators. (2013). Improving Student Achievement in Mathematics Through

Formative Assessment in Instruction. Retrieved from https://www.mathedleadership.org/docs/resources/jumpstart/NCSM_JumpStart_Overview_Position_Paper.pdf

Sabramowicz, A. (2012, March 3) How-to Give Feedback to Students the Right Way

[Video File]. Retrieved from

Wiggins, G. (2012). Seven Keys to Effective Feedback. Educational Leadership, 70 (1).

Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept12/vol70/num01/Seven-Keys-to-Effective-Feedback.aspx

Wiliam, D. (2011) Embedded Formative Assessment. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Wolpert-Gawson, H. (2011, March 3). 20 Ways To Provide Effective Feedback For Learning.

Retrieved from http://www.teachthought.com/learning/20-ways-to-provide-effective-feedback-for-learning/

Wolpert-Gawsom, H. (2011, March 3). Tips For Grading and Giving Students Feedback.

Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/grading-tips-student-feedback-heather-wolpert-gawron

Wray, E. (2013). Rise Model For Meaningful Feedback. Retrieved from

http://www.risemodel.com

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EDU 6526 Survey of Instructional Strategies – Meta Reflection – Standard 10

Standard 10: Teacher leaders understand effective use of research based instructional practices.

“Passionately committed teachers are those who absolutely love what they do. They are constantly searching for more effective ways to reach their children, to master the content and methods of their craft…” (Zehm & Kottler, 1993).

The portion of that description addressing a teacher continually searching for more effective ways to reach children is the best description of who I was as a teacher before this course. Over the last 11 years of teaching, I have spent a lot of time taking additional coursework, participating in workshops, and attending conferences, all related to the goal of increasing my instructional effectiveness to make the math I teach more accessible to my students. That being said, the major flaw in my process was a lack of measurable effectiveness. I would learn and try new things, and I would consider student data before and after implementation, as well as empirical evidence on how the students were reacting to the strategy and I even included student surveys, but I never had a quantifiable way to determine what the best strategies were, or why.

The first evening of this class, we discussed a variety of strategies and considered their importance in terms of instructional effectiveness. I’ve included my Instructional Effectiveness Survey, adapted from John Hattie’s (2012) book Visible Learning For Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. This survey was highly impactful and caused me to consider many of my previous understandings. One portion of this survey that I would love to have a conversation with John Hattie about is the idea that a teacher’s level of subject matter knowledge is something that has a very low instructional impact. This is something I end up butting up against regularly; I am not a math major, but I teach in a single subject math classroom. I have worked with many colleagues throughout the years who feel that my lack of a major in mathematics is something that will harm my students. I have always maintained that I have enough of a level of mathematical content understanding to be able to successfully teach my students, but I do believe that the more a teacher understands a subject, the more they can identify common misconceptions, understanding the conceptual basis for theorems and rules, and explain connections across coursework and into other subjects, thereby making their instruction more impactful. I would really like to learn if there is a level of understanding that is a required minimum in order for any additional knowledge to not matter when considering a teacher’s subject matter knowledge and how it relates to instructional effectiveness.

Throughout the course we were challenged to learn about different, highly-effective, instructional strategies and to create lesson plans to implement those strategies. A traditional math classroom has students in rows facing the front, with the teacher working through example problems and the students dutifully copying them down. Then a significant amount of time is spent allowing the students to work through more problems on their own for homework. This process is repeated daily, and is only interrupted by formal assessments. This traditional method is not effective, and must change. Although I had already started to make changes, this course provided me with multiple effective ways to implement the changes. One of the strategies that I took the most away from was collaborative groups. However, due to the traditional method of math instruction, I also chose to research direct instruction as an instructional strategy as well to determine its effectiveness and place in a classroom. A link to my collaborative groups lesson plan can be found here and my direct instruction lesson plan can be found here. What I learned in research and implementation of both strategies is those both are highly effective and have a place in the mathematics classroom.

My most successful lessons are lessons that implement multiple strategies from this course within the 54-minute class period. It is imperative that my students know what they are learning and why what they are learning is important. The most effective way to do this is through the use of intentional learning targets that are revisited throughout the lesson and to close the lesson. Many of the lesson plans I created as part of this course included direct instruction, and at least one additional strategy. Graphic organizers, summaries and note taking, and cooperative groups became very normal in my instruction. A wonderful resource for secondary math teachers when looking for examples of graphic organizers can be found here. My classroom is organized in intentionally assigned groups of four students. Students in each group have an assigned role in group activities that rotates so all students have an opportunity to be in each assigned role. Often, the most effective way to introduce a new math topic is by direct instruction, but this does not mean it is the only thing that happens in my classroom. I regularly use graphic organizers to activate schema before introducing the new concept, or as a method to compare or index the new material with prior knowledge. Students are given opportunities to “think-pair-share”, or to “rally coach” when working through problems. An example of a lesson plan where I implemented the rally coach strategy is available here. I often question student responses, asking them why they answered the way they did, and then calling on other students to critique the response and provide additional support or to challenge the answer with support of their own. When I do these types of activities, I am striving to create a dialogic classroom. Hattie (2012) states, “Dialogue is seen as an essential tool for learning, student involvement is what happens during and not ‘at the end’ of an exchange, and teachers can learn so much about their effect on student learning by listening to students thinking aloud” (p. 83).

Another main focus of this course that was very valuable to my development as a teacher leader is the importance of feedback. As a teacher who has worked in a small rural school where I had 50 students all day, and in a large departmentalized school where I have 150 students each day, I know the challenges that are faced by all teachers when attempting to provide authentic, meaningful and appropriate feedback. Shute (2008) created nine guidelines for teachers to use when providing feedback to enhance or improve the learning:

  1. focus feedback on the task not the learner;
  2. provided elaborated feedback (describing the ‘what’, ‘how’, and ‘why’);
  3. present elaborated feedback in manageable units for example, avoid cognitive overload);
  4. be specific and clear with feedback messages;
  5. keep feedback as simple as possible, but no simpler (based on leaner needs and instructional constraints);
  6. reduce uncertainty between performance and goals;
  7. give unbiased, objective feedback, written or via computer (more trustworthy sources are more likely to be received);
  8. promote a learning goal orientation via feedback (move focus from performance to the learning, welcome errors); and
  9. provided feedback after learners have attempted a solution (leading to more self-regulation). (as cited in Hattie, 2012, p. 152)

These nine guidelines are very helpful when trying to wrap my head around a task that can be very challenging. As a result of our readings and discussions on feedback, I have made it a focus of my teaching, but in a way that I feel is more manageable. For instance, I will work to give 5-7 students task feedback in each class a day for a week. By the end of the week, every student has received at least one instance of feedback from me in this way. Then the next week I will give 5-7 students process feedback on each day in each class. I will continue to do this until all students have received at least one instance of process feedback. Hopefully as I intentionally do this daily, it will become easily and more natural for me to work this into my daily routine.

In conclusion, as Hattie (2012) states, “Our role is not to enable students to reach their potential, or to meet their needs; our role is to find out what students can do, and make them exceed their potential and needs” (p. 93). The only way to do this is through intentional creation of daily lessons and activities that use a multitude of instructional strategies. Relying on only one method of instruction will not allow all your students to grasp the material, nor will it engage all students and help each exceed their potential. As I continue to be a teacher who is constantly striving to find the most effective strategies to instruct my students and engage them in learning, I will continue to work to find ways to implement the strategies covered in this course. I will continue to make my math classroom stretch and work away from what is traditional to a way that engages all students most effectively.

References:

Dean, C., Hubbell, E. , Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012) Classroom Instruction that Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Donohoo, J (2010) Learning How to Learn: Cornell Notes as an Example. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 54 (3), 224 – 227. http://dx.doi.org/10.1598/JAAL.54.3.9

Hattie, J. (2012) Visible Learning For Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. New York, NY: Routledge.

Rosenshine, B. (2012). Principles of Instruction: Research-Based Strategies That AllTeachers Should Know. American Educator, 12-19, 39. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf

Tovani, C. (2012). Feedback is a Two Way Street. Educational Leadership, 70(1), 48 – 51.

Zehm, S. J, & Kottler, J. A. (1993) On being a teacher: The human dimension. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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